Recently, Marines and Sailors with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit based on the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) began a major exercise in Djibouti known as Alligator Dagger. Unfortunately, it was quickly cancelled after a pair of crashes.
If you’re like a lot of people, you may be wondering, “why bother having the exercise in Djibouti, of all places?” Well, believe it or not, there are some very good reasons.
The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is currently deployed to the Central Command (CENTCOM) area of operations. These Marines are, in essence, a floating reserve for the current commander of CENTCOM, General Joseph L. Votel. But, as is the case with all Marines, it’s important to keep readiness high. To do so, you need practice.
In a release, the Marines stated they planned to conduct “amphibious training; live-fire; visit, board, search, and seizure; tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel as well as air assault evolutions.” Tanks, artillery, and mortar crews would also get a chance to practice during the two weeks of training at the Arta Range Complex in Djibouti.
All of this training needs to happen somewhere, and Djibouti was a very good place for it. Given that it’s in the Horn of Africa, it’s not exactly high on the list of places people want to visit. This means it provides a place for the Marines to practice their signature operations in an austere, potentially realistic setting.
In the real world, when Marines deploy, it’s not always going to be staged from a place like Kuwait, where a lot of modern conveniences are readily available. Similarly, training in the United States doesn’t prepare you for when you need a CH-53 to deliver fuel for your Humvees.
That is why the Marines wanted to train in Djibouti for two weeks. Losing this opportunity will sting pretty badly, but after those two crashes, the Marines had no choice but to stand down.